THE prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, appears suddenly to have settled a question that has hung over Japanese politics since the summer. He all but promised to dissolve the lower house of the Diet, or parliament, within two days—to hold a general election by December 16th. The move was greeted with glee by Shinzo Abe, who believes he can lead the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) back to the position of power it occupied for nearly all of the 55 years to 2009. It raises another big question for Mr Noda, though. Why is he willing to hold an election, so soon, that polls suggest he is bound to lose?